News coverage potential additional stressor for families

Press Release – Start with You

30 November 2016

Media release for immediate use

News coverage potential additional stressor for families

The earth moved for many New Zealanders this month – and following what for many people were concerning US election results, there’s been plenty to stress about. News coverage can accentuate the seriousness or danger of these events and exacerbate fears and stress for the public – often on top of what for many people are already unhealthy stress levels.

Given how accustomed to radio, television and printed media we are it’s easy to shrug it off as not that big a deal. However, in reality what we see and hear directly affects our mind and emotions. A study carried out in the days following 9/11 looked at stress reactions and found that ‘extensive television viewing was associated with a substantial stress reaction’. The study showed that ‘among children whose parents did not try to restrict television viewing, there was an association between the number of hours of television viewing and the number of reported stress symptoms’. The study suggests that ‘children exposed to a catastrophe largely through television coverage can also be affected, as after the Challenger explosion, the Gulf War, and the Oklahoma City bombing, with symptoms of trauma-related stress persisting for as long as two years’. (Referenced in full here).

Closer to home, following the 2009 tsunami in Samoa, adults and children in Auckland reportedly suffered symptoms of trauma through watching footage of the damage on TV repeatedly. They didn’t even need to have been there when it happened, because they were essentially experiencing it over and over again.

In part this is due to the way our brain works combined with the way news items are often presented – not to mention the large televisions they are often watched on. TV news items generally have a similar structure to trauma in the brain. In a nutshell, when someone is suffering trauma, and particularly ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’ (PTSD), among other symptoms they will typically re-experience the traumatic event over and over in their minds – often known as flashbacks. The structure of these flashbacks tends to mean they are big images, up close, loud and basically scary or distressing – exactly what most news items on TV look and sound like.

How can we stay informed AND keep our stress levels down?

Don’t start or end the day watching the news. Looking at news on the latest disaster, political situation or financial markets can often trigger the stress response before you even hit the traffic. Do you really want to start your day that way? Help the nervous system to wind down in the evening by avoiding news, TV programmes or books that create anxiety or trigger adrenalin. This is essential to sleeping well.

Employers: Educate your staff about this. Help them arrive at work calm and ready to go. Consider what media you have playing in the work environment. Is it supporting people to feel relaxed, energised and focused, or leaving them feeling potentially stressed and over-burdened? Support their overall wellbeing and productivity.

Parents: Be sure to watch with your children if they want to see the news, and answer any questions they may have. Have them sit some distance from the television and have sound just loud enough to hear clearly. It is also worth considering how frequently they watch the news (less is more!) and that they’re not watching anything dramatic before bed. At least an hour of ‘calm and quiet time’ in the evening is important for us all. (More advice available here).

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